The terroir of the Willamette Valley

Julia Crowley takes us on a journey through the heart of Oregon’s Pinot country with five unique examples of what they do best!

 


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The terroir of the Willamette Valley The terrain of Oregon's Willamette Valley is made up of bountiful complex micro-climates that play a major role in the dynamism and charisma of the region's variegated Pinot Noirs.  These micro-climates offer diverse geology and soils, so the multiple sub AVAs (American Viticulture Areas) of the larger Willamette Valley AVA have been inherent in identifying and outlining the unique characteristics of different wine growing areas.

Quite difficult to imagine, most of western Oregon was once the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Over millions of years, extremely tumultuous weather and disastrous geological events, like cataclysmic floods, earthquakes, extreme winds and volcanic eruptions, shaped the landscape of the Willamette Valley's diversified micro-climates, geology and soil. From marine sediment soils like Bellpine and Willakenzie, to volcanic basalts like Nekia and Jory, there's also Willamette, Woodburn and Wapato deposits from the Missoula floods - swished down to the valley via the Columbia Gorge during the end of the Ice Age from Montana's Lake Missoula. And that's not all, the Willamette Valley's north-east facing slopes had silt blown up on to them, called Laurelwood, from the valley floor. All of these historically catastrophic events gave vital, distinctive and brilliant characteristics to the wines of today's Willamette Valley.

Although the effects of soil in wine is a hot topic among geologists, I have personally experienced similarities in wines that have been produced from fruit grown in the same AVA. Oregon's Pinot Noirs showcase a sense of the place where their vines thrive, reflecting their terroir like no other grape varietal. Some Pinot Noirs are more terroir-driven than others, expressing their surroundings with intense, memorable characteristics; such as, these five outstanding Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs.

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Comments

  • Snooth User: opq
    775134 17

    Awesome article! You have just sent me on a quest!

    Sep 02, 2014 at 12:29 PM


  • Snooth User: Julia Crowley
    Hand of Snooth
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    Thanks for reading, @opq! If you've never been to the Willamete Valley or had these wines, I highly recommend both..obviously! ;)

    Sep 02, 2014 at 12:45 PM


  • Once again wine writers focus on the dundee region of the willamette valley. there are great wines being produced in other areas as well. take for example the pinot noirs of Broadley Vineyards in Monroe, or the Pinot Gris or Reisling of High Pass Winery.

    Sep 02, 2014 at 3:38 PM


  • Two great pinots not on the list are JK Carriere and J Christopher.

    Sep 02, 2014 at 4:41 PM


  • Snooth User: Biotite
    1533543 1

    I would add that the Crowley Pinot is very good and could be on this list. Thanks for a nice article.

    Sep 02, 2014 at 5:02 PM


  • Great Article! I would however invite you to the East Valley of the Willamette Valley, currently from Aurora to Silverton and Salem Area. Until around ten years ago it was thought that the East Valley could not compare to the wines of the west. However, now they are growing wines that challenge not only the west valley, but the world.

    Sep 02, 2014 at 7:32 PM


  • Snooth User: Julia Crowley
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    @sonomaexpat -Thanks for reading! I'm the author, and I'd just like to clarify that only one of the five Pinot Noirs was solely from the Dundee AVA. I wrote the article with the intention of recognizing multiple sub AVAs of the Willamette Valley. Other fabulous areas I chose to focus on in the article: 2 were from Eola-Amity (Iota & Lumos); 1 was from McMinnville (Hyland Estates); 1 was from a variety of AVAs including Yamhill-Carlton, Eola-Amity, Dundee Hills, Chehalem Mountains and Ribbon Ridge; therefore, Stoller is the only one from Dundee. Personally, I love Broadley and High Pass, and I plan to do a future article that focuses on wines from some of the wineries in the more southern portion of the Willamette Valley AVA - an area that I would love to see get their own designated AVA (from King Estate up to High Pass & Broadley). I chose these 5 Pinot Noirs (based on an assignment to focus on 5 WV Pinot Noirs) because I find them to truly reflect the characteristics of the uniqueness of the terroir of their AVAs. There are so many exceptional wines in the WV, it was terribly hard to narrow them down to just 5. Hang tight, I'll be bringing a bunch of articles that focus on wines throughout the entire state of Oregon, from Illinois Valley and Elkton AVAs to Columbia Gorge and Oregon's Walla Walla AVA. And I assure, you, High Pass and Broadley will not be forgotten. Again, thanks for reading and I hope you give it another read so you can recognize that I specifically focused on a variety of stand-out, stellar wines that really reflect the nature of their terroirs. Cheers to you!

    Sep 02, 2014 at 7:36 PM


  • Snooth User: Julia Crowley
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    @Caleurogal - I love JK Carriere and J Christopher! Please follow me: as Snooth sends me assignments, I sincerely hope to have the opportunity to feature wines from both of these producers in upcoming articles. Thanks so much for reading!

    Sep 02, 2014 at 7:41 PM


  • Snooth User: Julia Crowley
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    1094165 107,237

    @Biotite - Crowley wines produces some of the finest wines in the state, and I do hope to have the opportunity to feature them here on Snooth as assignments are delegated. I recently tried their 2013 Pinot Blanc (outstanding), and I will be featuring it on my wine-centric website therealwinejulia.com. It should be published within the next few days if you're interested in reading about this particular varietal and wine. Thanks for reading and for the kind words! Please follow me here on Snooth...I am sure that I will, at some point, be writing about Crowley wines, including their Pinot Noir.

    Sep 02, 2014 at 7:54 PM


  • Snooth User: Julia Crowley
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    @Vance-Wilson - I share your excitement for the wines from the eastern portions of the Valley. I cannot wait to write about some recent discoveries. Stay tuned, and thank you so much for reading!

    PS: Are you in Oregon and do you have any specific recommendations? Cheers!

    Sep 02, 2014 at 8:00 PM


  • We live in Eugene and lead a 500 person wine group. Please include some of the southern WIllamette Valley wines -- Broadley and Brigadoon Pinot Noirs to start.

    Sep 02, 2014 at 9:19 PM


  • Snooth User: Julia Crowley
    Hand of Snooth
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    @howardbandy - Hello fellow Eugenean! I (obviously) live in Eugene too...and I'm stunned to find out that there is a 500 person wine group here in town that I had no idea about - that's fantastic! We'll need to meet over a glass of...Brigadoon Lylee or Taproot Pinot Noir! :) - and I'm also a huge fan of their Pinot Blanc. Chris, Nick and Matt Shown (and Sheree) do a fantastic job at their vineyard, winery and tasting room.

    As I mentioned above in my response to sonomaexpat, "Personally, I love Broadley and High Pass, and I plan to do a future article that focuses on wines from some of the wineries in the more southern portion of the Willamette Valley AVA - an area that I would love to see get their own designated AVA (from King Estate up to High Pass & Broadley). I chose these 5 Pinot Noirs (based on an assignment to focus on 5 WV Pinot Noirs) because I find them to truly reflect the characteristics of the uniqueness of the terroir of their AVAs. There are so many exceptional wines in the WV, it was terribly hard to narrow them down to just 5. Hang tight, I'll be bringing a bunch of articles that focus on wines throughout the entire state of Oregon, from Illinois Valley and Elkton AVAs to Columbia Gorge and Oregon's Walla Walla AVA. And I assure, you, High Pass and Broadley [and Brigadoon] will not be forgotten."

    I'm a regular on KPNWs Wake Up Call with Robb Holloway and Bill Lundun here in Eugene, and I think I've mentioned Brigadoon as being one of my favorite wineries here each and every time I've been on the show. So, have no fear, there will be many more articles to come that focus on all areas of Oregon, I was just recently brought on board by Snooth as their Oregon Correspondent, and this is my first article. The amazing farmers, wine growers, winemakers and wineries of Oregon are my focus, and my heart truly belongs to Oregon wine and its industry.

    Does your group meet on a regular basis?

    Sep 03, 2014 at 12:50 AM


  • Snooth User: Pourfarm
    1017020 19

    Could you please publish pricing on these wines?

    Sep 03, 2014 at 12:07 PM


  • Snooth User: Julia Crowley
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    1094165 107,237

    @pourfarm - Thanks for reading and for your interest! Here are the suggested retail prices:

    Iota Cellars: $38
    Hyland Estates Coury: $60
    Lumos Wine North Temperance Hill: $48
    Stoller Family Estate: $30
    Cornerstone Cellars: $50

    Sep 03, 2014 at 1:28 PM


  • Snooth User: vin0vin0
    Hand of Snooth
    357808 7,146

    Julia, love the article(s) and look forward to reading more!

    We've been to the WV a couple times now and absolutely love the Pinots, as well as the pinot blanc and chardonnay. If anyone’s interested here's a link to my trip report from 2013 (http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/re...).

    Next time out I'm thinking we may try the Umpqua Valley - would love to hear about any of your favorites in that region.

    Sep 03, 2014 at 1:30 PM


  • A wonderful bit of writing! As a journalist myself, who reads a lot about wine, I was very impressed with your handling of all that detail and your personal comments. Clear and to the point, you kept me reading. I'm a Californian with some Eugene roots. My grandmother was a Bailey from the Bailey ranch southwest of Eugene. There is still an Old Bailey Road out of Eugene, I think. And I love Oregon wines, including Pinot Gris, which doesn't seem to have a great following.

    Sep 03, 2014 at 1:34 PM


  • Snooth User: Julia Crowley
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    1094165 107,237

    @vin0vin0 - I am a huge fan of both the Pinot Blancs and, especially, the Chardonnays (which I truly believe will be Oregon's next big thing)...

    I will certainly be writing about the wines and wineries of the Umpqua Valley (hopefully in the very near future). I do have some personal favorites there, like Abacela's Albarinos and Tempranillos. Reustle Prayer Rock has an incredible Gruner Veltliner and they are in a cooler portion of the Umpqua, so their Pinots have beautiful finesse. Delfino makes great Cabs & beautiful Gewurztraminers! I could go on and on and will go into much detail soon. Please follow me if you haven't already - I'm sure you'll be interested in reading my future Umpqua piece!

    I will read your article now, thanks for sharing that!

    Sep 03, 2014 at 1:52 PM


  • Snooth User: Julia Crowley
    Hand of Snooth
    1094165 107,237

    @nativeplant - Thank you kindly for the nice comment! There is, indeed, Bailey Hill Road. In fact, there's a great winery (Noble Estate) just off of Bailey Hill; as well as, Bailey Hill being one of the main roads that lead out to southern Willamette Valley wine country - to King Estate, Silvan Ridge, Sweet Cheeks, Chateau Lorane and more...I used to live off of Bailey hill, so I know the area well.

    I'm right there with you on the Pinot Gris. It's really a versatile varietal here because its characteristics not only rely on its terroir, but the winemaker's style of winemaking can highly influence a Pinot Gris. Jesse Lange of Lange Estate wines made the first barrel fermented Pinot Gris in the state, and it was so different than the normal stainless steel Gris'. Now many people are barrel aging them. And the lees play a big role in its versatility, as well. I've noticed that many wine enthusiasts don't seem to explore them enough to give them a fair chance - they are all so different, depending on so many factors. I hope to write about all of this soon.

    Thanks again for your kind words, nice to become acquainted! Cheers -

    Sep 03, 2014 at 2:07 PM


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    2181817 21

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